I spent six-hours in silence with the local nuns yesterday at The House of Prayer. It wasn’t quite as blissful as I’d hoped. For a start, I was exhausted and just as I was shown into my lovely double room, I was told ‘Please don’t lie on the bed.’ This was utter torture. The floor was not carpeted so there was nowhere to flop and the one thing I craved was a bit of shut eye.
Secondly, they had a chimney sweep in. Forget the noise of his machine and the fact that I was trying to meditate in the room where the chimney breast was situated, this guy made Shrek look light on his feet and insisted on running up and down two flights of stairs like it was an Olympic sport. To top it all, the Catholic primary school next door decided to have a disco at break time. What with the music and all those screaming kids….Aarrgh!
I wondered if this might be a test. Perhaps my goal is to learn how to meditate when there is chaos all around as it certainly seems to be following me at the minute. All was not lost. I did meditate for about three hours in total and I was so chilled, I kept nodding off.
There is a fantastic energy in the prayer room at The House of Prayer. It’s like being embraced by something silent, invisible yet overwhelmingly comforting. I slipped into a meditative state with relative ease in spite of the noise.
I also spent ages staring at a Mimosa tree outside my window that danced in the breeze and found myself quite lost in bird song, when it wasn’t being drowned out by the chimney sweep. There was a conker on the windowsill and for some reason, I found it exquisite to look at. It struck me that this conker was a potential tree. How amazing is that? I then thought that perhaps I too have the potential to grow into something spectacular. The conker doesn’t have to do anything to become a tree, everything is provided for it and maybe, the same goes for the spiritual life.
I was talking about the silent retreat to some of my journalist pals on Monday when we decamped to Northern Ireland. They couldn’t countenance the idea of being quiet for that long and when I explained that there were no phones, TV, radio, newspapers etc, they wailed ‘But what do you do?’
Nothing. I don’t do anything and that is the point. The only times in my life when I do nothing are either when I am sick or alseep. Doing nothing is so good for me. It calms the chatter in my head, dissolves tension and helps me to see things more clearly. I jotted down heaps of notes about where I want to head during my 6-hours of silence.
You don’t have to book yourself in with a bunch of nuns to do a silent retreat. You can do it at home and in case you fancy it, here are a few tips:
- Pick a slot of at least 5 hours when you will be alone at home.
- Turn off all your devices.
- Take the landline off the hook (if you still have one).
- Let everyone know you will not be available during that time period.
- Create a soothing, uncluttered space in your home where you can meditate. Make sure it’s warm – if not, have some blankets handy.
- Get lots of healthy snacks in.
- Have a notebook and pen at hand to jot down any inspired thoughts.
- Buy some nice bath oils – there’s nothing like a hot bath at a time when you don’t usually have one, to relax body and mind.
- Wear comfortable clothes. You might want to do a bit of stretching during your silent time.
Alternatively, there are plenty of organised silent retreats out there if you don’t want to go it alone. My spiritual mentor Marion is about to publish dates for some she is running near me in Surrey and I will post these up for those who are local.
Don’t start with more than 24-hours of silence, in fact, I think 6-hours is plenty for a novice. Once you get used to silence, you can go longer – Marion has done some 9-day silent retreats, which is the spiritual equivalent of a marathon.
You may have heard horror stories about people going bonkers during silent retreats. Pay no attention. Yes, silence can be difficult as there is nothing to do but face your true self. That is why are are entering into it. If you start slowly with 6-hours and build up, you should be okay and of course, if you choose to attend a guided retreat, there will be help and support on hand. This is why I enjoy Marion’s retreats. I know that whatever happens, I will be perfectly safe and well looked after.
Right, time for another hospital dash. Happy silence everyone!